How to Hold Your Own Against a Technology Guru

By Geoffrey James

Many large IT organizations have one or more technology gurus. Gurus are the superheroes of the engineering world, frequent presenters at industry conferences and well known outside their own company. While there are exceptions, gurus almost always have an exaggerated self-opinion combined with a marked disdain for anyone who lacks their technical brilliance. Though they’re usually not decision makers in their own right, they definitely are gatekeepers. A negative word from the guru can kill the sale in most sales situations. Even experienced software sales reps wince when they realize the sale hinges on impressing a guru.

Most software sales reps feel powerless to impress technology gurus. Dealing with the breed is easier if sales reps can establish themselves as an expert, even while paying homage to the gurus’ supposed greatness. The way you do this is to accumulate power during your conversation with the guru to counterbalance the guru’s power in the sales situation. There are four kinds of power you should strive for when dealing with gurus.

1. Insight. This is the power to see beyond the obvious. It is gained by having multiple contacts inside the customer’s organization, which allows you to add value to the guru’s position in the firm. Remember: Even gurus don’t know everything. As an outsider, you can bring a fresh perspective.

2. Legitimacy. This is the power of knowing the strengths and limitations of your products or services. If you can communicate what’s really great about your product and what’s not so great, gurus will respect your honesty. Legitimacy also comes from being strong and confident about what your firm can contribute without being overly concerned about the limitations of your product set. Gurus know that no software is perfect.

3. Relationship. Gurus immediately feel comfortable around people who show them the respect they feel they deserve. Mere flattery isn’t going to work because it will seem dishonest. The best way to build a relationship with gurus is to become familiar with their career and take an interest in their contributions. For example: I noticed you presented a white paper at conference XYZ, but I haven’t been able to get a copy. Do you know where I can get one?

4. Differentiation. Gurus respect uniqueness. They are more likely to warm to a sales rep and the rep’s solution if the sales rep can communicate clearly how the product is different from those of the competition. Differentiation helps gurus see the sales rep – and the rep’s firm – as a unique resource rather than a replaceable commodity.

The above is based on a conversation with Randall Murphy, president of Acclivus Corporation, a performance consulting and professional development company.